Monday, January 18, 2010

South Pole vs. North Pole

Everyone asked me the difference between the expedition to the North Pole and South Pole. Well, the answer is the two expeditions I did are similar but each has its unique challenges.

As for similarities, they both called Ski the Last Degree, just plug in the destination :). In each program, I attempted to get to the axis of the Earth rotation, or 90 degrees north or south by skis. Both regions of the world are known to have the harshest weather, even both trips were conducted in spring/early summer of the respective hemisphere. The similarities stop there :)

North Pole locates in the middle of Arctic Ocean. We skied on the floating ice that is formed during the winter to reach to 90 degrees north. Because the ice floats on the water, it drift along with water current in Arctic Ocean. Drifting ice can be a great help or deep frustration while skiing depends on direction it moves.

South Pole positions in the middle of Antarctica, which is a continent. The ice has been formed for millions of years. The ice that caps the whole Antarctica does move, but only several meters year so the drifting effect is very insignificant. Since the distance to the South Pole does not change constantly by ice movement, accomplish a goal is definitely less frustrating.

This fact may make skiing to the South Pole relatively easy compared to the North Pole. However, South Pole does pose some big challenges of its own.

South Pole sits on Antarctic Plateau, which rises to over 9000 feet (near 3000 m) and the last degree is well position in this plateau. Because this is at the axis of the Earth rotation, the air pressure the plateau is less than that at the same altitude elsewhere on Earth. In fact it would feel like 4000m instead of 3000m.

So from a sea level, skiers get dropped to very high altitude (at which most people will exhibit some AMS symptoms) and start to pull a heavy sled for a long time, in extreme cold weather. This is a very difficult task.

Also, the snow formation near and at the South Pole is different than that at the North Pole. South Pole is very dry and windy. There is no virtually no precipitation or falling snow. The snow here are formed from of any traces moisture exist in the air, therefore, they do not bind together like the snow found in the North Pole or elsewhere. They are powdery and sand-like and creates a lot of drag. Pulling a sled on hard snow (North Pole) is much easier than soft sand-like snow in the South Pole.

To be fair, North Pole has a lot of its own difficulties too. Since the ice formed during the winter, some surface is extremely slippery and dangerous as the ice may break and creates open leads. Also, when two ice sheets collide, they create pressure ridges which most of the time very difficult to maneuver.

Skiing the North Pole has peaks and slumps in term of physical work. When climb over pressure ridges, it is very physically demanding but rewarding when done.

Skiing the last degree South Pole requires a constant endurance and performance as the plateau is quite flat which can be very demanding as well.

As far as weather is concerned, North Pole seems to be colder, even though the temperature tent to be higher than that at the South Pole. The reason for this is North Pole is on an ocean, therefore, humidity is much higher and the sun tents to be covered by clouds while Antarctica is so dry. Meteorologists will give us a better answer but according to my tiny sample, there seems to be more sunny days on Antarctic plateau.

My experience is definitely I felt colder in my North Pole trip, even though the temperature was ranging from -17 to -30C, which is "warmer" than what we experienced some days in Antarctica. I could not dry my clothes as well as in the South Pole trip in which we were very lucky to get beautiful weather most of the time.

So there, that is my answer.

1 comment:

Kushagra Pathak said...

Its great to know about your experience